Posts by slapin

Funny if it wasn’t so tragic

April 25th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 6 comments

One picture is worth a thousand words. My husband was invited to give an economic speech at a northern California college. Naturally, in an educational environment, students must be shielded from hearing opinions that aren’t part of liberal orthodoxy. And people wonder why we don’t support making college more available and affordable. It seems to us that fewer people going to college today would be an excellent idea.  (more…)

April 21st, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

I admit to not following the Bill O’Reilly/Fox News story carefully. One of the lovely plusses of a holiday like Passover is five days with no communication from the outside world (the first two and last two days of Passover and the Sabbath in the middle.) However, if a comment about there being a lot of blondes at Fox is seen as proof of sexual harassment, then perhaps it’s time to ban women from the workplace. People make bad jokes all the time; people make stupid jokes all the time. Having everybody walk on eggshells or refrain from talking because, “everything you say can and will be used against you,” does not make for a healthy workplace. There is plenty of real harassment of all kinds that goes on. In my opinion, that comment doesn’t make the cut.

Faith in America: A CBS Propaganda Documentary

April 20th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

I just finished watching a well done piece of propaganda, produced by CBS News. As I write these words it is Easter Sunday which, this year, falls in the middle of the Passover holiday.  It seemed appropriate to click on a video entitled “Faith in America: a History,” which I was sure would be a celebration of America’s tolerance and religious diversity. Traditionally, this is a time of year when secular networks tap into the holiday season by showing movies like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. A documentary on America’s various religious communities seemed to fit that tradition.

Of course, in a historical narrative it would be only honest and fair to mention the sad times when discrimination peppered our history. These would legitimately include, among other examples, early anti-Quakerism, the antagonism the Mormon Church faced, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. However, I assumed that the thrust of the show would express pride and gratitude for our amazing country.

In all fairness, the site that linked me to the video didn’t include the subtitle, A history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in America, which, despite some grammatical awkwardness, might have warned me of the show’s slant.  But I never saw the subtitle.

By the end of the documentary I was shocked breathless. Here is my summary of what I saw: Evil Republicans, especially Donald Trump and anyone who supports him, are channeling anti Catholic biases of earlier years in America along with Nazi sentiments in Europe to promote baseless, superstitious fear of and harm to Muslims.  End of story.

I must sadly acknowledge that the show was extremely well done. As a homeschooling mother I wanted to watch it with my children, get their feedback and then watch a second time, pausing every few minutes to point out or send them searching for rebuttals to the half-truths, false associations, misleading language and blatant disregard for history that made up the bulk of this shameful anti-American propaganda. While not on the level of a Leni Riefenstahl documentary, it was most impressive. (Did you see how I manipulated you there? Leni Riefenstahl was Hitler’s favorite director. Her 1930s movie Triumph of the Will was an effective, ground-changing work that helped Hitler solidify power. By making an analogy to Ms. Riefenstahl, I encouraged you to compare the CBS documentary to her work, leading you to associate the CBS film I’m discussing with a Nazi production, ergo CBS is like Hitler. That is one of the types of manipulative propaganda for which you should be alert should you choose to watch the CBS film.)

I would strongly encourage anyone who saw this piece to take the time to factually refute it and consciously address the tools of disinformation it employs. Too often, we have an underlying gut feeling that something is wrong but don’t bother to intellectually enumerate the problems. CBS is relying on Americans’ notorious lack of historical knowledge coupled with ignorance of current world affairs to encourage viewers to adopt a highly subjective and partisan attitude.

My homeschooling students are grown and I trust that I taught them well enough that they can dissect this program themselves should they choose to see it. My days of running history seminars for children are over for now. However, in closing, I’d like to offer one story from my childhood that in a very personal way exemplifies religion in America to me.

As Easter always falls on or near Passover, this time of the year in Catholic parts of Europe was often a period of fear and bloodshed in the Jewish community. Catholic services too frequently ended with mob violence against the Jewish community, resulting in horrendous pogroms.

In contrast, I grew up in a mixed Italian-Catholic and Jewish community in New York. In days when mothers didn’t view themselves as their children’s social directors, neighborhood children grouped into de facto play groups. My two best friends growing up each lived down the block. I attended a religious Jewish school; Beth, whose family belonged to the Conservative movement of Judaism went to public school; and JoAnn and her siblings were stalwarts of the local Catholic school.

One year, on Passover, Beth’s grandfather, who also lived on our block, died. The funeral took place on the holiday and JoAnn’s mother offered to watch one toddler grandson at her house during the ceremony. My parents thought I was too young to go to the funeral but old enough to stay home alone while they attended. About an hour after they left, JoAnn came running over to say that her mother needed me to come and bring food with me. Her mother’s young charge was crying and she wanted to give him something to eat. In grief and shock at the sudden loss of her father (the burial was less than 24 hours after the death) Beth’s aunt had not sent any food with her son.Yet JoAnn’s mother knew how careful we were with kosher food on Passover and didn’t want to offer the very young child anything, not even a fruit, that might show any disrespect for our religion. To me, that, rather than the agenda-driven, political cudgel CBS produced, represents faith in America.

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Sneak sale preview!

 Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real-life Ask the Rabbi Questions is
going on sale next week.

I’m initiating the sale early to give Musings readers a head start on getting the book.
It’s a great conversation starter around the dining room table as well as a fun read.

Recite, Repeat, Rejuvenate

April 14th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Very early in the Passover Seder we ask a question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” followed by four examples of unusual behavior. This section is often inaccurately called “The Four Questions.” From there, we annually follow the same program, reading, singing and/or chanting the same words, eating the same foods and doing the same actions as our ancestors. Yet, if that is all that you do, there is every chance that your Seder can become an uninspiring chore. It may foster warm family feeling, but do little for one’s relationship with God.

The test of a truly successful Seder, is one that indeed is exactly like every previous one in its details, but that is breathtakingly groundbreaking in terms of the discussion, questions, debate and insights. What a wonderful model for any family, group or country that wants to survive and thrive over the long term. If you break away from the core requirements, you lose your connection to the past,  becoming something new rather than a continuation of your past. If you cling so narrowly to the past that you can’t explore new avenues and see things with fresh eyes, you become a fossil.

May we all have the wisdom to know when to cling tenaciously to the past and when to fearlessly forge the future.

 

Congratulations!

April 7th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Thank you to Justice Gorsuch,  President Trump,  Senator McConnell and the Republican Congress for standing firmly by your principles and promises. Congratulations are due to you and to all Americans.

 

Harmful Hysteria

April 6th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 57 comments

I wasn’t planning to write about the Mike Pence non-story concerning his commitment to his wife because that is exactly how I saw it—as a non-story. To protect his marriage, he doesn’t dine alone with women other than his wife and, unless he is with his wife, Karen, he doesn’t attend parties where alcohol is served.  This very basic personal marital agreement was treated by feminist and liberal outlets with the same hysteria they would have accorded to the revelation that the Vice-president was actually Jack the Ripper.  Since hysteria on steroids has become the hourly response of many since November’s election, I decided to ignore the story.

I changed my mind and wrote the following because I remembered an encounter I had with a bright, conservative-leaning, religious young woman back in 2007. She explained why she was going to vote for Barack Obama and I was so taken aback that I was unable to respond. Later, I realized that her youth was leading her to believe campaign statements that sounded wonderful, without having the tools to judge them against history or reality.  Along with that recollection, I became aware that Karen and Mike Pence’s commitment had become a target of comedy shows. Laughter harnesses tremendous power that, if used negatively, is hard to combat and silence didn’t seem an option for me any longer.

Most of those mocking Mike Pence as someone who is liable to attack any woman across the dinner table if Karen isn’t there to serve as a brake, have an agenda.  That is the most charitable explanation for their idiotic statements. However, there actually could be people hearing them, especially young women, who are so inexperienced and naive in the way that the world really works that those statements sound plausible. They may not even be so young. In her book, Committed, author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) relates that she was well into her thirties before she realized that infidelity does not ‘just happen.’ Neither does it happen only to people of low character or to those swept away by uncontrollable forces. It was a revelation to her that one can actually set in place boundaries in a marriage that protect you from the seemingly harmless, tiny steps that lead on a path that can end in marriage betrayal.

Setting those boundaries in place is exactly what Mike and Karen Pence have done. While the particulars may differ, in concept they are in sync with ancient Jewish wisdom. Marriage, it says, is so valuable to both individuals and society that it must be protected just as you would protect a valuable, irreplaceable piece of art. Should you, let’s say, own such a masterpiece, you wouldn’t set up a system chiefly to deal with the aftermath of a theft. You would set up all sorts of protections in advance to make theft, or even damage to the piece, difficult in the first place. The fact that you don’t disable the system when a six-year-old girl comes to view the piece doesn’t mean that you suspect her of being a felon in disguise. The system stays in place regardless of who comes near.

I would ask anyone who even felt a shred of indignation or scorn at Vice-president Pence’s principles or who saw a funny lampooning of his marriage to read the following two accounts.

  1. Rabbi Aryeh Levin (1885 – 1969), was known as “the tzadik (righteous one) of Jerusalem,” for his tireless efforts to care for the poor, imprisoned and sick. Stories abound reflecting his caring, Godly nature. Yet, one of the most circulated stories of his life relates not to his public works, but instead, to his marriage. At a doctor’s appointment for pains his elderly wife was suffering, he explained their presence in the doctor’s office with the words, “Doctor, our foot is hurting us.”
  2. In 1990, Robert McQuilkin retired from the presidency of Columbia Bible College and Graduate School in order to stay at his wife’s side while she dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2005, my husband and I, along with over 6,000 other married couples, watched a video where he talked about his resignation, including these words:

The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me–her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continuing distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

If there was any woman in the crowd who didn’t choke up, I didn’t see her. I did see many women murmuring a silent prayer asking for a marriage as blessed as that one. Fewer men had tears rolling down their cheeks, but I saw quite a bit of nose blowing.

I absolutely believe that marriages such as those can and do still exist. What’s more, I believe that most women know that they crave such marriages.  At the same time, I think that today’s cultural milieu make these marriages less likely and harder to achieve. Late night comedy shows, partisan politics and foolishness about gender and sexuality masquerading as cutting-edge wisdom that is paraded not only in universities but also aimed at young children, imperil the chances of such enduring devotion and love. We can’t simply ignore or dismiss those things unless we are willing to fall under their spell as well as bequeathing them to our children. And so, I write.

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SNEAK PREVIEW!

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Too Much Choice?

March 30th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 34 comments

A favorite children’s book in our house was, Who Put the Pepper in the Pot? It describes how, as a pot of soup simmered on the stove, each passing family member added a pinch of pepper. Not surprisingly, by the time dinner was served, the soup was inedible.

A pinch of pepper adds zest to food; too much can ruin it. We can say the same about life choices. It’s wonderful to have choices in life; it is part of being alive.  However, it does seem that each year brings more and more options to young people. Most of these are choices which they have neither the experience nor the maturity to understand.

For many years now, among these choices are how much emphasis to place on a career or profession, whether to get married, and whether to have children (and whether to link the two latter activities). Universities, of course, have their own biases, which tend to minimize marriage and family or suggest that those will be available at any time of one’s choosing.

This week marks my mother’s seventeenth yahrzeit, the Jewish word for the anniversary of a death. During my childhood years, my mother, like most of my friends’ mothers, was “just a mom.” She was always there when I got home from school, she made a supper with a protein, carb and vegetable every night and made sure I had what I needed for school. In pre-computer days, this included a drawer full of magazine articles collected through the years, with pictures from around the world and biographies of interesting people. Since we didn’t have a car it also included taking me on regular bus trips to the library until I was old enough to go independently.

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Let’s Hate Everyone

March 28th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

One of the basic tenets of raising children (or dealing with adults) is to notice and reward good behavior more than catching and punishing bad behavior. Smiles and frowns are both contagious, but spreading one leads to a happier world while the other makes everything seem worse.

We seem to have a frenzied flap over something or other on a regular basis now – even leaving aside politics. The latest one I caught was over United Airlines enforcing the dress rules that they have for “pass travelers,” who are flying for free as relatives of United employees.

Twitter, the blogosphere, Facebook, Snapchat all reward busybodies and hotheads. These forums can obviously be used for good purposes and have been, but they encourage us to think that we have to step in and add our voice to everything we see or hear about. Inevitably, jumping to conclusions and lack of judgment become the order of the day. As well, those whose lives are emptier have more time (and need?) to be heard, often in strident and vulgar tones.

I recognize the irony that by posting here I am sharing my views on this on the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook. I hope that doesn’t make me a busybody and hothead – does it?

Leaning Left

March 23rd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 33 comments

One of my granddaughters recently completed a homeschool assignment requiring her to tell a fairy tale from the point of view of one of the minor characters. She did a wonderful job relating Jack and the Beanstalk from Jack’s mother’s perspective. I think she may have a future in journalism.

I regularly scan a variety of newspapers and magazines. As part of that process, I view many news articles and opinion pieces from sources that pride themselves as being mainstream. Overwhelmingly, they tell news events from a Democrat and liberal perspective. Even the Wall Street Journal, whose opinion page skews right, presents the news as seen through liberal eyes.

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Behind Every Great Man…

March 16th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

Quick! Is this a complimentary statement or an insult? “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about this phrase. How exactly do I feel about it?

While I haven’t tried this experiment, I conjecture that if you asked college students what they think of those words, most would dismiss it as a relic of patriarchy. After all, it reeks of a time when women weren’t expected to be great themselves but only support staff. A variation of the saying is , “Behind every successful man there is a woman,” but this only emphasizes the potential problem even more. (For the purpose of this conversation, I am going to focus on wives rather than mothers, not because I underestimate maternal influence but because that’s a different discussion.)

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